When it comes to women, clothes aren’t merely a mode of self-expression. They are a metaphor for cultural tensions.
Women’s clothes have long represented the frontline in the culture war over gender roles and expectations. Incidents happen from time to time that take the world by storm and expose cultural contradictions and hypocrisy. One such incident happened recently when Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin posed for a fashion magazine in a plunging neckline coat. As soon as the photoshoot hit social media, it was met with a flood of criticism.
While there were a multitude of supporters who stood with the Finnish Prime Minister, the incident calls for a significant discussion. What do women’s clothes mean for society and what was Marin really trying to accomplish?
Watch: Meet Finland’s Sanna Marin, the World’s Youngest Prime Minister
Conflicting interest of society with women’s clothes
Since time immemorial, different sizes, colors and labels of clothes have been a form of self-expression. But this has always been contentious when it comes to women’s clothes, because what a woman wears is not merely seen as self-expression, but as codified forms of societal expectation. It is as much about what society wants to feel as the motivation of the women wearing the garments.
Self-expression is somehow always contentious when it comes to women’s clothes.
According to a study by a team of psychologists, wearing suits made male politicians feel powerful. Formal dress allowed politicians to think more broadly and holistically, rather than narrowly. However, the tables turn when we talk about women in authority in any field.
The purpose of an outfit is to let an individual feel how they want. However, we don’t really adhere to the same code when it comes to women. Why does society not allow a woman to wear whatever makes her feel the way she needs to feel? Maybe a woman feels more authoritative when in a suit, maybe in a dress. In either case, it’s time we live and let live.
When a woman takes charge, it includes her own body
Another study revealed that more women in power prefer dresses rather than suits. As women climb up the social ladder of success and recognition, they often transition to wearing lesser clothes. Growth not only broadens the mind but addresses the fact that a successful woman can take charge of her own body in addition to taking charge of things around her. While choice of clothes shouldn’t be a luxury for the few at the top, it is still more likely for women to face issues of propriety as they climb the social ladder.
More women in power prefer dresses to suits.
In addressing Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s photoshoot, the issue is not only about how her clothes make her feel. When a national leader choses to express herself in such a way, it is foolish to believe that it comes with no deeper motivation. The bigger picture is that the 34 year old Prime Minister wishes to provoke a debate. What women wear and how they look has always been a subject of contention. The centre-left government leader is attempting to unchain women’s looks from societal scrutiny.
Watch: Women Stand With Finland Prime Minister Sanna Marin
Finland Prime Minister’s photoshoot is not the first case of world attacking a female politician’s outfit
Finland Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s photoshoot is not the first time that a female politician is being called out for her sartorial choices. When a UK member of parliament, Tracy Brabin wore an off-shoulder top in parliament, criticism of her outfit over-shadowed the issues that she addressed. However, it’s not a woman’s clothes that face judgements and criticism. Hypocrisy is bare-faced when another woman in the same room is criticized and advised to leverage her cleavage to be taken seriously.
Watch: The Controversy Around Tracy Brabin’s Off-Shoulder Dress In The House Of Commons
Jo Swinson, the former Liberal Democrats (UK) politician mentioned, on BBC Breakfast, that she is often advised to wear lower cut tops and different earrings. She stated that she was advised as such to increase the chances of her party’s win in elections.
When a woman wears outfits with a raised neckline, she is boring and advised to reveal a bit. When she does that, it is called politically inappropriate. There is a set of said and unsaid rules governing every sphere of female life from her clothing decisions to her choices over maternity. And it comes as a surprise that the world is accustomed to.
The same world that can accept a President with multiple sexual harassment cases and allegations struggles to accept a woman who choses to wear whatever she wants.